March 21, 2022

One of the most challenging scenarios for companies is sustaining their new continuous improvement process. Between 60-80% of all lean continuous improvement efforts fail within the first 12 months.

Why does this happen?

CI initiatives fail because they don’t have a strategy in place to sustain them after the experts who supported the project leave.

We’ve outlined 3 key strategies needed to create a long-term CI initiative after the initial project is complete.

Identify a Sustainable project: 

Sustaining a CI project begins with identifying a project worth investing your time in.

Often, companies and leaders are ready to kickstart a project with the sole purpose of improvement and sabotage their efforts from the beginning. It’s not enough of a reason to make a change just to see a need and have an idea to improve it – the benefits of the change have to justify the challenge of making the change and the cost of the initiative itself.

DVIRC Strategic Partner and Master Black Belt J.R. McGee says that when identifying a project worth your CI efforts, you must discover where a project falls in the formula of discomfort.

You have to evaluate if the pain of change is more or less than the current pain of the status quo and the cost of changing it. To help answer the question of “is this project worth the time and money?”, our experts recommend talking to your whole team. Don’t just focus on the leadership roles, take the time to talk to any team members that are responsible for implementing the change.

Without buy-in from those who will be implementing the change, there is no chance of sustaining it. 

“It’s always about the culture. CI requires passion from the change agent, they need to believe in and understand what they’re doing” – JR McGee

Face Resistance & Influence People: 

Change usually brings some resistance, so it’s vital to be prepared for the opposition a CI initiative may face.

J.R. suggests that there are three main types of resistance to watch out for:

  1. People who don’t understand.
  2. People who understand the idea but don’t like it.
  3. People who understand the idea, but have a more personal issue with the initiative, like feeling threatened by the change or disliking the leader.

For those who don’t understand.

They may just need to be brought up to speed. Consider informing them on the strategy behind why this project was chosen, how it will be implemented, and what their specific role is during and after the project.

For people who understand but don’t like the idea.

You want to be careful that you’re not enhancing the resistance. First, identify the type of resistance you are facing; level 1 or level 2. If they are a level 1 resistor, they may just be asking questions to understand. You’ll need to explain more details about the project like where the budget will come from or your specific desired outcomes of the project. Level 2 resistors may also have questions, but they are probably being asked to undermine you or the project.

Be sure to remember your end goal here is to create project advocates, so avoid an argumentative style to prevent the resistance even more. Consider meeting with these individuals privately to resolve any conflicts with the project.

For level 3 resistors, who understand the project but may not like the individuals involved.

Our experts recommend additional meetings that aim to resolve any past conflicts. If it’s a personal disconnection that can’t be solved, then focus solely on the benefits of the project. Show them how the project will enhance their lives and identify which category of business the project will improve–survival, competition, customer value, or customer satisfaction.

Unresolved resistance is the leading driver for projects that do not sustain.

If handled properly, resistors can be turned into the best advocates for the CI initiative. People who are resistant to a new method of doing things are often the most passionate about what they’re doing. So speak to them and include them in the project–you may just get an advocate.

“The people who have the most passion are usually the ones who care the most about the success of whatever it is they’re doing. There’s nothing more powerful in your workforce than making the person who used to fight the change into an advocate for the change. They can influence a lot of others at the company” 

Put Sustainability in Your Plan for the Future: 

After the initial CI process, it’s important to set up a structure to follow through and sustain the change over time.

It’s key to have a well-written, unambiguous action plan. This plan needs to assign individuals to each item on the plan and have a clear timeline for the process. The plan should also clearly identify what success looks like for this project. The team should know what the initiative has changed, who’s implementing the change, and how it’s getting done.

If there’s no sustainment plan in place, the changes implemented by CI are likely to revert to normal within 30 days, JR said. But with a good sustainment plan, a CI initiative can succeed long after the first project. CI initiatives run by DVIRC’s experts have a 73% success rate for sustaining action items 12 months or longer.

The most important benefits for creating and sustaining a “Culture of Continuous Improvement”? The organization will achieve greater on time delivery, reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction. The other important value is CI engages and empowers employees at every level of the organization with the skills and tools to enhance their capabilities – and their job satisfaction – which supports talent retention.

To learn more about sustaining CI efforts, join us on March 30th for a lesson on sustaining CI projects. Click here to register.